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Foodborne Illness and Safe Food Handling

Thawing and Cooling Foods Safely

Harmful germs can grow in some foods, which can make you sick. There is a higher risk when the food is left in the temperature danger zone between 4 °C and 60 °C. Germs can grow in foods like meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, eggs, cooked cereals, and cooked vegetables.

It is a good idea to thaw and cool these types of foods safely to make sure harmful germs don’t grow and make you sick.

How do I thaw foods that can grow germs safely?

Don’t thaw food at room temperature or in hot water. Harmful germs can grow on the surface of the food, even if it’s still frozen in the middle.

To thaw food safely:
  • put food in the fridge and store raw meat below any ready-to-eat foods (e.g., fruits and vegetables)
  • put food under cold, running water in the sink
  • use a microwave and make sure to cook foods right away after they are thawed
  • cook foods from frozen (e.g., add frozen vegetables to soup that is cooking)

After food is properly thawed (except when thawing with a microwave), keep it in the fridge (4 °C or colder) before you cook or reheat it.

How do I cool foods that can grow germs safely?

If you cool foods slowly from cooking temperatures (74 °C or hotter) to fridge temperatures (0 °C to 4 °C), there is a higher chance of germs growing. Always cool food as quickly as possible. Foods must cool to 20 °C within 2 hours and then to 4 °C within another 4 hours.

To cool foods safely:

  • divide food into smaller portions or pieces (large food items take longer to cool)
  • add ice to the food
  • store food in shallow pans and put them on the top shelves of the fridge. Cover the pans after the food has cooled. Don’t stack pans so that cold air can move freely around them.

After food is properly cooled, label and store it with the date and time it was prepared. Throw away any food that isn’t eaten within 3 to 4 days.

Current as of: February 26, 2018

Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services